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Summit Film Productions: A Canadian Communicator

By Marilyn C. Robinson

Volume 13 Number 3

In The Beginning

Imagine if you will a maple bush in late March. The sky is that special shade of blue seen in early spring. The warming sun has only just begun to push aside the winter's snow, revealing last year's leaf crop in isolated places along the footpath.

You're in a sugar bush, and the surest sound of nature awakening, maple sap plinking into tree-hung buckets, would be yours to revel in if it were not for the merry, excited chatter of sixty grade I and 2 school children in the midst of a learning experience.

The foregoing is an accurate description of how Summit Film Productions of Cambridge, Ontario got into the business of making sound filmstrips for classroom use in Canada.

The Learning Experience

Every spring for the past fourteen years, Doug and Marilyn Robinson, president and vice-president of Summit, have opened up their sugar bush on a hundred acre farm in Puslinch Township, just outside Guelph, Ontario, to organized field trips for students in Wellington and Waterloo counties.

By the time the last bus leaves at the end of the maple season, the Robinsons have looked into the shiny faces of approximately eighteen hundred six-and seven-year-olds.

In response to more and more requests from the teachers for something they could use to make the sugar bush trips more meaningful, something they could use to prepare the class for the trip, and something they could use to review and reinforce afterwards, Summit decided to produce Sugar Maples and Maple Sugar, a 69-frame sound filmstrip running eight and a half minutes with a target audience of grade 1.

Canadian - Produced

One thing definitely in Summit's favour was the fact that the filmstrips were produced in Canada for Canadians by Canadians. While Doug and Marilyn Robinson do not want to sound parochial they have been told often enough, for example, that it is depressing to have to buy a tree identification slide set of 350 species produced in the United States in order to get at the fifty or so that may be applicable to southern Ontario.

There is a Canadian market out there, but its size and geographic distribution demands careful cultivation. The old adage about using a rifle instead of a shotgun has particular meaning, north of the forty-ninth parallel.

Expanding the Classroom

Audiovisuals in the classroom hold out the opportunity of enriching the learning process by bringing the distant into close-up and expanding the effectiveness of the classroom teacher.

Summit has chosen to bring the out-of-city and out-of-doors into the classroom by means of sound filmstrips. This editorial policy dovetails neatly with major changes in the Ontario school curriculum to incorporate more time on the food system and the agriculture industry in general.

Among the subjects listed in Summit's current catalogue, you'll find one entitled Over the Farm Fence, Part 1, Crops, which is the first in a series built around what the students may see in a windshield survey while driving along a road in rural Ontario. Quite naturally, this one shows what crops are growing, what they look like as the season progresses, and whether animals or humans eat them.

Subject selection is critical, and one of Summit's most successful filmstrips to date does not arise from its resource and agriculture areas of specialization. In Remembrance was conceived and produced in 1983, the first year that the school system did not have a holiday on November 11, Remembrance Day. Each school was expected to hold a commemorative service, but most had no resource material.

Marilyn Robinson recognized this need and together with her husband Doug they produced a 7 minute 43 second, 55-frame sound filmstrip that gives meaning to that special day for children who can have no direct family memories of world wars. They did this by answering five questions: what the poppy symbolized, why we commemorate the end of World War I, why Canada fought in that and other wars, what freedoms we protected, and why New Canadians value them. In reference to In Remembrance, one school board passed along the following comment to the producers: wit was wonderful to have something the primary children can understand." Summit has sold over eight hundred kits to date, right across Canada.

The Future

While contract production work will continue to represent the major portion of its business, Summit Films is convinced that there is a need and hence a market for well-conceived, professionally produced, Canadian communications tools for classroom use.

What started out, quite innocently as a means of enhancing the learning experience of a school trip to the sugar bush has developed into an increasingly significant part of Summit Film's business.

Sound filmstrips titles available from Summit:**

The Tale of The White Pine -an exciting look at Ontario's history through the eyes of a cartoon character named "Coney."
A Visit to a Pig Farm -pork chops back on the farm.
A Visit to a Dairy Farm -behind the supermarket milk shelf.
Exploring a Rocky Island -primitive succession in the Canadian Shield.
A Forest Community -ecology of a hardwood bush.
A Is for Aggregate -gravel pits and what they produce.
Over The Farm Fence, Part 1, Crops -windshield survey along a road in rural Ontario.
Sugar Maples and Maple Sugar -a story about maple syrup.
In Remembrance -why we remember Nov. 11 each year.

** Note: Prime audience is Junior level.

For further information, contact Summit Film Productions, R.R. #22, Cambridge, Ont., N3C 2V4, (519) 658-2852.

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